Spring Break Part 3: Bucharest, Romania

I put off writing this post for awhile, thinking I would have plenty of time to do it while I was home with the baby (which I have, but I’ve been lazy).  I will post about Baby Herbie #2 soon!  🙂 Anyway, we added Bucharest, Romania (not to be confused with Budapest, Hungary–on our to-do list!) onto our spring break trip because we had a few extra days before I had to return to work and we had some extra cash through the travel agency that we were able to use on the hotel there.  After visiting Athens and Santorini, Greece, we ended up back in the Athens airport for most of the day before heading to Romania.  The airport was actually pretty nice and they had a fantastic kids’ play area where we hung out for a bit before eating.

Our flight was in the evening, so we landed in Romania somewhat late, then took the bus into the city centre.  Once we got to the central station, we took a {very sketchy} cab to the Central Hotel by Zeus International.  The hotel was nice and fairly centrally located.  Once we arrived there, we checked in and dropped our bags.  We had a very cranky, hungry toddler on our hands, so we did something we almost never do while traveling- we ate McDonald’s for dinner.  It was basically attached to our hotel, so it was easy, cheap, and made our little guy happy.  After that, we all crawled into bed and passed out.

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We didn’t have a lot of must-see’s on our Bucharest list, especially since it was a last-minute addition to our trip.  The following morning, we ate a yummy and filling breakfast at the hotel [while the Romanian women swooned over Benjamin].  We then decided to take free walking tour.  It started at ten, and thanks to my misguided navigation skills, we barely made it to the meeting spot on time.  BUT, we did make it, and I’m glad we did!  Our tour guide was absolutely fantastic, and I learned so much about the city!  Without giving away all the details, we saw the Union Square, the Old Town, a statue of Vlad the Impaler (Dracula!), “the ugliest statue in Bucharest”, Stavropoleos Monestary, and Revolution Square.  The Monestary was easily one of the most unique and gorgeous churches I have ever visited!  Romania has gone through much turmoil and has had many political problems, even in their recent history.  It was fascinating to hear about all the issues and how much the people there have overcome!

Union Square & our awesome tour guide

Old Town

Vlad & “The ugliest statue in Bucharest”

Stavropoleos Monestary

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Revolution Square

During our tour, we walked by Caru’ cu Bere, a restaurant I had seen on several websites I visited before our trip.  We decided to stop there for lunch– the interior was breathtaking!  Our lunches were good, but the dessert was what really made the meal.  We ordered the papanasi, which is a traditional Romanian dessert, much like a donut with cheese and jam.  While we devoured our delicacy, a group of musicians played some music, much to Benjamin’s pleasure 🙂 {In fact, he enjoyed it so much so that he fell asleep on daddy’s lap while watching!}

After lunch we took a leisurely stroll down to the Palace of Parliament, which is the second largest administrative building in the world, after the Pentagon (I didn’t know the Pentagon was that big!)  It is GI.GAN.TIC!  I could barely even get it all in one photo!  While we were wandering around, Benjamin woke up from his nap, so we headed to a huge playground near the palace.  The playground was super cool; we noticed that Bucharest had a ton of green spaces, parks, and playgrounds.  We made our way back to the hotel before heading out to dinner.

Restaurant Vatra was about a block from our hotel, so we popped down to give it a try that evening.  I am glad we did!  The waitresses were IN LOVE with Benjamin–even took a picture with him!  I had delicious Romanian stuffed cabbage rolls with polenta…DELISH!  And we even got to see some Romanian dancers!

One our favorite things to do when we are traveling is find awesome bookstores or libraries.  Bucharest happened to have a super cool, modern bookstore, Carturesti Carusel, so we just had to go!  It was beautiful with tons of fun things to look at, and we of course bought some kids books {our fave!}

Surprisingly, Bucharest’s Old Town has a pretty lively night scene–we wandered through, and if we didn’t have Benjamin (and Baby #2 in my belly), we probably would’ve stopped for a drink or two.

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Day two started with another yummy breakfast at the hotel, then packed up and stored our bags at the hotel after checkout since our flight was late in the evening.  Our first stop of the day was the National Museum of History.  The main exhibit was a plaster cast of Trajan’s Column, which is a Roman triumphal column that is located in Rome and commemorates the Roman Emperor Trajan’s triumph in the Dacian wars.  {Now that we are planning a trip to Rome in the fall, I am excited to see the actual column!}  The bas-relief images were carved in a spiral going up the column, which was really cool.  There were lots of other artifacts, such as jewelry and the crown jewels, but Benjamin was getting a bit restless so we left before we were able to see everything.

Next on our agenda was lunch, which we had at Manuc’s Inn in the old town.  The inn is gorgeous, and we were able to eat lunch on the patio in the beautiful sunshine.  Brandon enjoyed a Romanian beer, while I sipped on some delicious lemonade before eating some more yummy traditional Romanian food.

The rest of our afternoon was spent eating ice cream from Cremeria Emilia (YUM!) and wandering around, enjoying the sunshine.

Romania was definitely a different destination; you could feel and see the communist influences and Eastern European vibe.  I enjoyed our time there, and only have one regret: not taking a day trip to visit Dracula’s Castle in Transylvania.

Bucharest Travel Journal 

 

Spring Break, Part 2: Santorini, Greece

Santorini.  Swoon.

Chances are, if you’ve ever envisioned a picturesque Greek island getaway, you were probably picturing Santorini.  Ya know–those unbelievably beautiful, screen-saver-worthy photos filled with white buildings and blue domes, a too-blue-to-be-real sea meeting gorgeous sunny skies?  Yep, it’s real.  It’s Santorini.  And it’s every bit as beautiful in person as it is in those photos.

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As you may or may not have read in my Spring Break, Part 1 post, B, Benjamin and I spent a night in Athens before taking the ferry through the Aegean Sea to Santorini.  We arrived at the port mid-afternoon Sunday, April 10 after much anticipation.  I’m not sure what I had envisioned the island looking like, as I knew Santorini was part of a volcano caldera remnant, but it wasn’t what I expected at all.  The whole side of the island was comprised of cliffs with those picturesque light-colored buildings settled on top, like icing on a cake.  I was actually quite surprised by how big the island was; the many websites I had scoured gave me the impression that it was relatively small.

Anyway, once off the boat, we found a bus headed toward Fira, the capital city which overlooks the port area and the actual volcanic island, Nea Kameni.  The bus was cheap and easy, and took us right into the town centre.  The drive was a bit nerve-racking, as the road up the side of the cliffs is relatively narrow and full of terrifying drop-offs, loose gravel and rock, and lots of switch-backs, and the bus is a huge charter-style bus playing chicken with the other buses, cars, bikers, and hikers on the road.  We all made it to Fira in one piece, and my hero husband figured out where our apartment was from there.  Luckily, it was a pretty quick walk, and mostly downhill.

Oh yea.  The hills.  Oh man, the hills.  I suppose this is a good time to remind you that we accidentally  left our Ergo baby carrier in my {non-working} car…  Had we been thinking in Athens, we would’ve found a store and bought a dang carrier there, but our minds were apparently in vacation mode.  Anyway, we realized upon arriving at the bus stop that it was going to be a rough few days with the stroller…

Back to the apartments.  This was another accommodation booked by the travel agency; we were much more impressed this time though {good thing since we were staying four nights!}.  We stayed at the Anessis Apartments in a cute little beachy-feeling kind of a room.  At first, we were a little skeptical; the apartments were located in kind of a strange place, off one of the main roads on a sketchier-looking drag kind of in the middle of nowhere (yet still pretty close to Fira’s city centre, if that makes sense).  Our minds were put at ease though as soon as we arrived.  The apartment had a single bed and kitchen area with a table in the entry room, then a larger bed  with a table and closet space in the next room, followed by the bathroom, which was equipped with a glorious shower!  A pack-and-play was provided for Benjamin (as I’ve mentioned in other posts, it is rare that we stay somewhere that is unable to provide one). The only thing that was a bit tricky was not having a tub, as it was really difficult to bathe Benjamin, but we made do.  The staff members at the apartments were absolutely fantastic!  They made us feel incredibly welcome, answered all of our many questions (even helped us try to locate a baby carrier!), and provided a yummy breakfast each morning.

We unloaded what we didn’t need, then headed back out to do a bit of exploring for the rest of the afternoon/evening.  Despite the inherent difficulties with having a stroller in an area filled with hills, stairs, and cobblestone, I absolutely fell in love with Fira.  The city was bustling with people, shops, restaurants, and excitement, even on a Sunday night.  After wandering a bit, we ended up having dinner at Ellinikon, a restaurant in the town square.  It was pretty good, we both had pasta (yes, I know, our first night on a Greek island and we eat pasta, haha…but we were starving and wanted to be sure we went home with full tummies!) and were impressed for the most part.  The staff was especially nice!

After the long day on the ferry, we were all glad to make it to a comfy bed and get a good night’s sleep.  The following morning we started with breakfast at the apartments.  As I said, the staff cooked us up a great breakfast each morning; Benjamin was surprisingly especially keen on the Greek yogurt mixed with honey.  Our goal for the morning was to find a baby carrier, as we knew our days in Santorini were going to be tough without one (especially since we had booked a tour for hiking the volcano).  The apartment staff helped us brainstorm some potential places to check out, and we were on our way.  To make a long story short, none of the stores in the main city centre sold or rented carriers, and the one store that does normally carry them (which took us on a nice little stroll along the cliffs overlooking the port) didn’t have any in, as there had been a boat strike and the shipment hadn’t come in yet.  We were super bummed to say the least, but hoped that maybe the store would get them in that day or early the next day {spoiler alert, they didn’t 😦 }, so again, we made do.  I got some great photos of the volcanic island from our walk, and Benjamin got to see his first donkey of the trip.  He’s really funny, because he can’t say the names of animals, but he knows how to make most animal sounds, so we spent a good portion of our Santorini vacation listening to him squeal with “neighs” and giggles.

We stopped for some coffee in town, then ended up in the square for some delicious gyros from Bagiatiko.  They were super inexpensive and amazingly delicious–B and I each had a gyro and Benjamin chowed down on a pork souvlaki and fries.  While we ate, we sat in the square and people-watched, a favorite activity for all of us.  Benjamin loves waving to people (and animals), and makes admirers wherever he goes!

After a nice long walk that put Benjamin to sleep, we relaxed and refreshed ourselves at the apartments.  Our goal was to get back to the bus stop by 4:30 to catch the bus to Oia, a town about 20-30 minutes away.  Oia is actually the city that is most pictured in those gorgeous white-building and blue-dome photos, and is located at one of the tips of the crescent-shaped island that is Santorini.  The bus ride was not for the faint of heart–the drivers fly along windy roads, teetering on the edges of cliffs.  B was definitely not a fan.  But again, we made it in one piece and set off to explore.  Oia is a maze of pathways meandering through hills of restaurants, shops, churches, and other buildings.  Just wandering through the town is mesmerizing, there is so much to look at and experience.  At practically every turn there is a gorgeous view of the ocean and the lingering smell of delicious food.

I’ve had people ask what kinds of kids’ activities there were for Benjamin on the island, and to be really honest, we didn’t run into many–not that we went out of our way to look for them either.  He is usually pretty content relaxing in his stroller (or in the carrier when we have it), people-watching.  On this trip, we let him get out and wander around on his own quite a bit as well, which helped to wear him out too!  He loved seeing all the {stray} dogs and cats, and again, made all sorts of admirers–we seriously have people come up to us all the time to tell us how beautiful he is–sometimes in languages that we can’t always quite understand!  We do bring books and small toys in his diaper bag/stroller for when he does need a little distraction, but usually that is just at mealtimes if the food isn’t out yet.

We were hoping to watch the sunset in Oia, as I’ve heard that is a “must-do” there, but we were also starving by that time….  Lucky for us, we found a rooftop restaurant {Kyprida} with a sunset view that had plenty of room for us and wasn’t outrageously priced [much of Oia seemed pricier than Fira; while the whole island is definitely touristy, Oia seems to be the most touristy, and the prices reflect that].  I had the delicious traditional Greek dish moussaka, which is kind of like an eggplant lasagna/casserole.  The sunset was, indeed, beautiful, but to be honest, I preferred the view in Fira!

After dinner and a stroll through the lovely night scene in Oia, we hopped back on the final bus back to Fira and called it a night.  Though I adored Oia, I am glad we didn’t book a hotel there, as Fira is much more central and has more to offer in my opinion.  Oia is definitely a must-see though, if you are on Santorini!

So, I just realized that I have written a lot….and I still have a lot to write….so I just wanted to say sorry {or maybe sorry not sorry I have so much to say about this incredible place?}  Oh well, I shall continue….stick with me, there’s lots more to see!

Tuesday was my 31st birthday.  How lucky am I?!?  I got to spend my 31st birthday 31 weeks pregnant in GREECE!  Not only that, we had booked a tour through Viator for the day.  Our tour would take us to the volcanic island for a hike up the volcano, then to another nearby island to experience the natural hot springs.  I have mixed reviews of the tour:

Pros:

  • the company provided all transportation: a guide picked us up from our hotel and        dropped us off by the cable cars that would take us down to the port, the round-trip cable car tickets were provided, and of course, the boat rides to and from the islands were included.
  • the boat was awesome!
  • the hike up the volcano gave us incredible views of the harbor and island of Santorini, and we were able to feel the hot air vents at the top….we also learned quite a bit about the volcano from our guide
  • the weather was perfect–I even got a sunburn beautiful glowing suntan 😉
  • overall, it was a relaxing outing

Cons:

  • it was relatively pricey
  • the hike was a bit more difficult than we were anticipating {being almost 8 months pregnant and toting an 18 month old without a baby carrier didn’t help matters…}  B and I traded off carrying Benjamin, and let him walk some on his own as well.  B was a champ and did the whole thing in sandals!
  • I was looking most forward to experiencing the hot springs and mud, but was not allowed to go, as I was pregnant {and let me clarify that I did indeed do some research beforehand to see if pregnant women were allowed to go in hot springs, which they are! but apparently not for this particularly company/tour–this was not indicated anywhere on the website, which was a big bummer to me}

So, would I do the tour again?  Maybe if I wasn’t super pregnant and we had our baby carrier.  It was pretty exciting to say that I hiked a volcano on my birthday 🙂

Once we got back to the Fira port, we took the cable cars back up to the city.  The cable cars are an experience all in themselves – I would highly recommend at least one trip on them if you are there.  They are a bit rickety, but I really enjoyed the views and experience!

We had another delicious Greek meal on a rooftop at Parea Tavern.  The gemista I ordered was amazing, as was my baklava dessert.  As you can tell, I thoroughly took advantage of having Greek food at my fingertips for the whole trip- SO. YUMMY.

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As usual, we took a mid-afternoon siesta (yea, yea, I know, wrong country) and relaxed at the hotel before heading back out for dinner.  In all honesty, we were still pretty full from lunch when we headed back out, but we ate at Mama’s House.  It was pretty good, but definitely not our top meal of the week–possibly because we were still full {and maybe a little because Benjamin was being a wild child!}  Even with my full belly, I made it my mission to find something chocolate to eat for dessert for my birthday.  We ended up back in the town square, where I found the most decadent birthday dessert at Crema Latte: waffle bites with chocolate syrup and dark chocolate ice cream.  It was to.die.for.  While B and I ate our ice cream, Benjamin danced to the street musicians performing in the square.  Perfect birthday.

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Wednesday was our last day in Santorini, as our flight was the following morning.  We didn’t really have any plans, so after breakfast we decided to take the bus to the beach in the nearby town of Kamari.  The town was mostly still closed down for the season, but you could tell they were prepping for the big tourist rush soon.  The beaches were black pebble beaches and were lined with amazing hotels and restaurants {most of which were not open yet}.  It was a perfect relaxing few hours–we sat on the beach soaking up the sun; B and Benjamin tossed rocks into the Aegean.  I can imagine that this area of the island gets pretty busy during the summer, and probably pretty rowdy in the evenings!

We had a late lunch at Convivium  (Italian for a change!)–amazing pizza!  Then we went back to the apartment to pack up and let Benjamin nap.  Our final stops that evening were back in town for some souvenirs and gelato.

Thursday morning was bittersweet, as I didn’t want to say goodbye to Santorini, but I was excited to head to our next destination: Bucharest, Romania.  I hope that I make it back to the Greek islands one day {perhaps a romantic anniversary getaway sometime?}, Santorini certainly found a place in my heart!   

Santorini Travel Journal

 

Spring Break, Part 1: Athens, Greece

Well, I think I have recovered enough from my vacation to finally start writing about it 🙂  Since I am a teacher and due with baby #2 in June, spring break seemed like the perfect time to take our last big trip before baby’s arrival.  We had originally hoped to head to Santorini, Greece for a few days with some friends of ours, but they ended up not being able to join us, so we extended our plans a bit and made a whole week of it.  B had won a trip to Paris through a travel agency through his work, and the plans had fallen through multiple times due to various problems.  We finally just asked them if we could spend the money on a trip of our choosing, to which they agreed.  So we used the money through them to book all of our accommodations for this trip, which covered a hotel in Athens for one night, accommodations in Santorini, Greece for four nights, and a hotel in Bucharest, Romania for two nights.

{Yes, we are the crazy family who booked 7 nights/8 days of excitement while almost 8 months pregnant and lugging around an 18-month-old 🙂  This is what the travelbug does to you!}

Our trip certainly was full of excitement, starting from the very beginning!  Our initial flight from London Stansted to Athens was Saturday, April 9 at 9:05am.  There had been some strikes and issues with certain flights/airlines (as well as Greek ferries, which we were to use Sunday) throughout the week, so we were constantly checking and double-checking the status of our flights and ferry up until that day.  Luckily, none of the strikes affected us.  We planned to leave the house around 5:30 to give us plenty of time to get there and checked in.  I’m glad we planned for the extra time, as my car decided not to start that morning…  We ended up having to take B’s (much older) car, causing us to have to switch the car seat and move all the bags and such.  Not a huge deal, but definitely not how we wanted to start our vacation!  So we got on the road and realized two things: a. I had booked meet and greet parking (different than the one I used for my Sweden trip) using my car and registration, and b. we had left our Ergo baby carrier in my car, where we kept it most of the time.  I called up the meet and greet service to see if we could alter the reservation using B’s car, which was no problem.  I know I said before that I wasn’t overly impressed with meet and greet, but since we had bigger bags, were staying longer, and had Benjamin with us, we decided to try it again– I was happy we did!  I think it definitely saved us some time and hassle for this trip.  Our second problem, the left-behind Ergo, was definitely much more of a hinderance than the car situation, which we would realize quite often throughout our trip.

Anyway, we got to the airport, got through security quickly (thank you giant baby bump), and had enough time to grab a coffee before we headed to our gate.  The flight was probably the longest we’ve had here in Europe (3+ hours), and we did not buy Benjamin his own seat, as he was still young enough to be a lap child.  While he wasn’t a terror during the flight, if I had to do it over again, I would purchase him his own seat–he is just getting too big and mobile, and my 8-month-pregnant belly didn’t help.  We made it through the flight with the help of snacks, some new books and toys, and episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba on daddy’s iPad.

We arrived in Athens mid-afternoon, and decided to catch a taxi to our hotel.  Apparently we ventured to the wrong taxi area, for as soon as we loaded our stuff and climbed in the cab, a police officer stopped us and our taxi driver, explaining to us that it was not an approved area for cabs.  He took our information then directed us to the *correct* cab area.  In case anyone is catching a cab from the Athens airport anytime soon, when you exit the airport, the *correct* cab area is to the left 🙂

The travel agency that booked our hotel booked us one in Piraeus, which is the port city by Athens.  Our hotel was decent, nothing glamorous and over-the-top, but definitely not a dump either.  Since we were leaving early the next morning via ferry, the location was convenient for catching a quick cab to the port.  We were starving, as we had really only snacked all day in the airport and on the plane, so we dropped our bags and headed out to find something to eat.  There was a Greek restaurant just around the corner from the hotel that was fairly busy, so we gave it a shot.  It was really yummy–we had potatoes with herbs and cheese and we each had a wrap.

View from our hotel room and orange trees growing along the streets:

Since we were leaving early the following morning for Santorini, we knew we only had a small chunk of time to explore Athens.  B had been to Athens before, so he didn’t have anything specific in mind, but I really wanted to see the Acropolis/Parthenon.  We caught a cab back into Athens city, and headed directly for the Acropolis.  We stumbled across Poseidon on our way 😉 :

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and Benjamin found a kitty who was not at all interested in him:

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This was the first point in our trip that we realized we really needed the Ergo carrier.  The Acropolis is situated up on a rocky plateau-type area overlooking the city of Athens.  It is relatively high up and there are quite a bit of stairs leading there.  Strollers are not permitted, so we had to check it into the stroller-check area.  Lucky for us, that same place rented carriers FOR FREE (with an ID), so we got Benjamin situated in a hiking carrier to make the trek.

The first sight along our way was the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.  It’s so fascinating to see such old, beautiful structures!  I am not super into Greek history, but it’s definitely breathtaking and mind-blowing to see these ancient and incredible sights!

We continued up to where the Parthenon was located (along with several other structures), which gave us the most incredible views of Athens.  There was so much to take in, I could’ve stayed there taking photos for hours!  Here are a few highlights:

After heading back to get the stroller and return the carrier, we stopped at Areopagus Hill at the foot of the Acropolis.  It has a lot of important historical and mythological connections, and provides fantastic views.  I went up alone to take some photos, as B had been before, and hung out with Benjamin.

We meandered through the city centre area of Athens for a bit before calling it a night and heading back to the hotel for much-needed rest.

Early the following morning (Sunday), we were scheduled to take the ferry from Athens to Santorini.  We opted for the non-high-speed ferry, meaning we would be on the boat about 8 hours.  Our thinking was that it would be big enough for us to stretch out, relax, let Benjamin run around, and maybe even sneak in a nap.  While it was big and not terribly cramped, the combination of traveling, lack of sleep, and lack of adequate meals left us all pretty cranky on the ship.  I am not normally one to get motion sickness {I have been on a cruise, boats, wave runners; in cars, trains, big planes, tiny planes-even a 9-passenger plane where I sat co-pilot! and have never been sick!}.  However, I drank a cup of coffee once onboard, as I tend to get migraines if I don’t have caffeine, then promptly made my way to the bathroom and threw it all back up {sorry :X}.  The whole trip wasn’t so bad, but it wasn’t the highlight of our vacation by any stretch of the imagination.  We did get a few gorgeous pictures as we made our way through the islands in the Aegean Sea…

Overall, Athens was incredible, even for the short period of time we were there.  I would have loved to see more (especially the Acropolis Museum !), but hopefully we will make it back someday 🙂  The ferry left a lot to be desired, and I am beyond glad we booked a flight from Santorini back to Athens rather than a round trip ferry ticket!  However, it did take us to the breathtakingly beautiful island of Santorini, which I will write about soon!  Here is a little sneak peek of Santorini…

Swoon…

Athens Travel Journal

Göteborg Getaway: My Solo Sweden Trip

Yes, this seven-month-pregnant lady waddled her way solo around Gothenburg, Sweden this past weekend!  First of all, if you’ve never taken a solo trip, DO IT!  Sometimes I just like my “me” time, whether that is in the bathtub with a good book or in another country with my travel journal 🙂  I’ve read a lot about women traveling solo, and while I have done it before, I read that Scandinavia is one of the safest places to do it.  {I travelled to Tanzania when I was 23 for three weeks on my own, so I wasn’t especially concerned about safety, other than the fact that I am indeed seven months pregnant…}  Anyway.  I love the thrill of being somewhere alone with my thoughts and my own agenda, so I was excited for my adventure.  I am definitely the planner {I am typically the one booking flights, finding hotels/accommodations, planning must-sees, etc.}, possibly partially due to my control freak nature and OCD tendencies 🙂  For solo trips, I like that I don’t have to wait around for anyone and can literally change my plans at the drop of a hat.

So, what did I do in Sweden?  Well, I was only there for maybe 36 hours so it was kind of a whirlwind.  After work Friday I drove directly to the airport to catch a 6:55 flight.  I used this meet and greet service to meet me at the terminal at Stansted so I could just drop my car and be on my way.  I had gotten a Groupon for it, so it ended up being about the same price or a little bit cheaper than a normal parking spot anyway.  While it was convenient not to have to worry about actually parking and walking or shuttling to the terminal, I don’t necessarily feel like it would’ve been worth it had I paid full price.  One of the things I didn’t like about it was that you have to call 20 minutes before you get to the airport, then right after you clear customs on your return.  I didn’t like the added stress of making that call while I was driving, and my phone doesn’t get great service in the airport, so coming home I wasn’t even able to call until I was outside anyway.

I digress.  I arrived at Gothenburg Landvetter Airport at around 10pm (two hour flight plus an hour time difference), and hopped on the Airport Coach to the city centre, getting off at Nils Ericsson Terminal next to the central station.  From there, I used my Gothenburg City Card to hop on the tram toward my AirBnB apartment.  Unfortunately, I have a horrible phone, so it died on my way there….which made finding the actual apartment difficult.  Luckily, I had printed out the address and other information regarding how to get into the apartment, and luckily most people speak English in Sweden.  I stopped into a restaurant to see if they could help point me in the right direction–they were kind enough to look up directions and even print them out for me!  Finally, I made it to the apartment around midnight!  The apartment was actually much more spacious than it looked in the pictures, so I was pleasantly surprised by that.  The bed was pretty small though, so it definitely was perfect for a solo traveller like myself!  I pretty much fell into bed and didn’t get up until the next morning!

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To preface the rest of my overview, I will say that Gothenburg was definitely not a city that I just fell in love with like many other cities I’ve visited.  While I really enjoyed the various things I did there, I wasn’t smitten with the city overall.  I think part of the problem is that I have this idea in my head that all European cities should be quaint and cute and picturesque, full of beautiful architecture and cobblestone streets.  Gothenburg did have those things in small doses, but in general, the city was much more modern and grungy than I expected.  I think another contributing factor was that I was in the city for such a short period of time that I really didn’t get to ‘get lost’ in it, which is one of my favorite things to do.  There were definitely areas that I would’ve loved to explore more, but time was a pressing factor for this trip.

Since I only had one full day to explore, I had made a list of things I hoped to see and do while in Gothenburg.  To start the day, I wanted to head to one of the archipelagos before the rest of the sights opened in the city.  Again, I used my city pass to hop on one of the trams to take me the 30 minutes to the Saltholmen Ferry Terminal.  I had looked up the time schedule ahead of time, and knew that there should be a ferry leaving for Aperö around 9:05.  Being ever the early bird, I arrived at the terminal well before then, and enjoyed taking some photos and catching up in my travel journal before the ferry departed.  The ferry was really nice (and the fare was included in the city pass as well, woohoo!), and I enjoyed a muffin and a coffee in its upstairs cafe area.  The ride was only about 10 minutes, so by the time I finished my food I was on my way off the boat and onto the beautiful, serene, car-less island.

While on the island, I mostly wandered around, taking lots of photos of the beautiful landscape and taking in the quietness of the place.  I didn’t see a lot of people there, but those I did see were incredibly friendly, all saying “hej!” with a welcoming smile.

I decided to climb to the top of Valen Hill to get a great view of the island, other archipelagos, and even Gothenburg!  I took a rather unconventional route up the hill, unaware that there was a path on the opposite side (probably not the best thing for my pregnant body, but hey, I made it!).  The views were worth it though!

I took the path back down the other side of the hill, which was much easier and flatter!  It took me all along an uninhabited portion of the island, and I ended up by what I thought was the other ferry terminal that would take me back to Gothenburg.  It was pretty much deserted though, so I wasn’t sure that the ferries were operating from that terminal.  I headed back toward the neighborhood area of the island {mind you, the tiny island only has around 450 inhabitants, so it didn’t take long!}.  The next ferry back to the Gothenburg wasn’t set to leave for another hour, so I took advantage of the extra time to rest my achey body and again catch up in my journal.

I arrived back at Saltholmen early afternoon after a light lunch and a quick ride on the ferry.  [This time, the ferry went from Asperö to Brännö, another of the archipelagos, then back toward Gothenburg.  I wish I would’ve had time to explore Brännö as well, it looks fantastic!]  Once I returned, I pretty much headed straight into town, as my main two destinations were both near the city center: Gothenburg Art Museum and Universeum Science Centre.  Both were included in the city pass as well.  I first visited the art museum.  While I am an art teacher, I am pretty particular about the type of art I enjoy viewing at museums.  There were a lot of older Nordic artist exhibits which I wasn’t particularly interested in, but I did love the self-portrait gallery, sculpture display, and the impressionism/modernism exhibits.  I spent about an hour there before heading out toward the Universeum.

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As I mentioned before, my phone sucks, so most of the time I was in Sweden I didn’t have access to anything (maps and clocks included!).  Luckily, the paper maps I had were decent and I was able to pretty easily find my way to the science centre.  Other than the archipelagos, the Universeum was my other “must see” in Gothenburg.  It did not disappoint!  Even for a single adult, it was really cool.  This was one thing I wish B and Benjamin was there for–they both would’ve LOVED it!  The centre has several different levels and includes everything from both fresh and salt water aquariums to a space exhibit to a rainforest {most of which was being renovated, bummer}.  There was a ton to do and see there and would highly recommend it, especially for families with kiddos!

After the Universeum, I didn’t have anything really planned, so I started to sort of make my way back toward the apartment.  I stopped down by one of the canals to see the “fish church” (a fish market).  It was closed, but the building was pretty cool, and there were tons of people out and about enjoying the beautiful weather [it was sunny and upper 40s, which was much warmer than I expected for Sweden!].  As I made my way back to the apartment, I stumbled upon the Haga neighborhood.  This was an area that was mentioned in several of the blogs and websites I scoured before my trip, and I am glad I happened upon it!  The area was super cute, filled with street vendors, adorable shops, and yummy cafes.  I picked up a few souvenirs and devoured a delicious kanelbullar {Swedish cinnamon bun} and headed back to the apartment to rest before dinner.

My plan was to head to Spisa for dinner, a restaurant nearby that my AirBnB host had recommended (also the place that was kind enough to give me directions the night before!).  However, they were hosting a party, so I was sadly not able to eat there.  I ended up next door at Bistro Italiano.  Dining alone has its perks- they didn’t have any tables available, but were able to seat me at the bar for my meal.  I had an absolutely delicious pesto pasta meal and an equally delicious tiramisu dessert 🙂  I cannot say enough about the staff that I interacted with there- they were so friendly, attentive, and wonderful!  I am a bit bummed that I didn’t get to really try any traditional “Swedish cuisine”, but my Italian meal was pretty darn good!

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I returned to the apartment and was oh so thankful to lay down- between the hiking on the island and walking around town, my body was beyond tired!  I woke Sunday with enough time to grab a quick breakfast and coffee before hopping on the bus back to the airport.  On the way to the airport, I got a glimpse of Liseberg, the amusement part in Gothenburg.  I was incredibly surprised to see that it is pretty much situated right in the city, and backs up against the Universeum!  It was closed for the season [not that I could’ve enjoyed much in my pregnant state], but I have heard great things about it!

Goodbye Gothenburg!  I hope to see Sweden again someday….I would really love to do a Scandinavian cruise and see the beautiful fjords and more archipelagos!

Gothenburg Travel Journal

Trading Turkey for Tapas: Thanksgiving in Barcelona

Ahhh Barcelona.  Spain’s second most populated city.  It has definitely claimed itself a spot in my top cities that I have visited so far.  The architecture, the beaches, the excitement and commotion of the city, everything appealed to me.

I apologize in advance, as this is a long post…we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Barcelona and I of course took a bazillion photos :).  Some of the highlights I talk about and highly recommend include:

-La Sagrada Familia

-Park Guell

-The Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour

-Font Montjuïc

-Barceloneta/beach area

This past Thanksgiving, we decided to forgo our normal tradition of having a huge turkey dinner with our overseas “framily” and opted to travel with them instead.  We tried to get all of our friends to join us in Spain, but alas, only four of them were able.  Anyway, the seven of us (six adults and 1-year-old Benjamin) found a great apartment on AirBnB {almost always the first place I check for accommodations when traveling!}.  Unfortunately, the listing is no longer available, so I can’t post a link to it, but it was perfect for our group!  It was just outside of the super touristy part of the city, making it quiet and relaxing, but easily accessible via public transport and the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus [which I will talk about in a moment].  The apartment had a fantastic balcony, which was used extensively by our crew, especially in the evenings in conjunction with some adult beverages.  {Once again, I was pregnant and unable to enjoy the many perks of such grand travel destinations….I will be back to Spain one day, if only to enjoy a Sangria!}

As I mentioned, Benjamin joined us on this trip, and though it wasn’t his first flight, he did amazing on the plane!  We flew into Barcelona El Prat airport on Thanksgiving Day (November 26) and landed around 11am.  {For those curious, we generally fly out of London Stansted Airport, which is a little over an hour away from where we live, and we typically use Ryanair  flights, as they are cheap!}  Once we arrived in Barcelona, we took the Aerobus from the airport to city centre, then had about a 20 minute walk to our apartment.  We got our luggage situated at the apartment and found some lunch at Piazza D’Italia.  It was DE.LI.CIOUS!  Seriously, a perfect way to kick off our weekend of overindulgence. 🙂

After lunch, we sort of just wandered around to get a feel for the city.  I don’t think any of us realized how big Barcelona is.  There are lots of different districts with different vibes.  We somehow ended up down by the coast, so we decided to take a boat tour of the harbor.  This could have been a really enjoyable experience, but we did not do our research well enough.  First, B had to use the restroom really, really, really badly, and we bought tickets so quick that he didn’t have time to find a bathroom before we boarded the boat.  [I won’t go into detail on how that problem was solved…]  Second, the weather had been incredibly nice all day, but the sun was starting to set and it got really chilly, really fast.  We were definitely all a bit unprepared for that.  Third, we booked the 45 harbor minute tour instead of the 90 minute one, thinking that it would be a nice, relaxing quick ride, and that we didn’t need to be on a boat for an hour and a half.  Well, the 45 minute ride only took us around the marina and shipping yard area of the harbor, not out by the actual beaches and such.  It was a relaxing little break from all of the walking we had done that day, but we definitely should’ve looking into it a bit more.  Oh well, ya live and ya learn, right?

As the sun set, I did get some really great night photos by the port of Barcelona area!

We ended our day with “Thanksgiving Dinner” tapas at Maitea Taverna, near the apartment–highly recommended by our AirBnB host.  B and I had never really gotten into the tapas fad in the states or elsewhere, so we weren’t exactly sure what to expect.  We tried lots of different tapas, usually bread or toast topped with various toppings (most of which we had no idea what it was).  While we enjoyed a lot of them, we both agreed that we aren’t really “tapa people”, as we much prefer a full, hot meal for dinner.

Our whole group decided to do the two day Barcelona Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour Friday and Saturday.  We all agreed that it was well worth it- because Barcelona is big and somewhat spread out, there is no way we would’ve seen nearly as much as we did without the bus tour.  With a one-year-old in a stroller, the hop-on, hop-off bus was also ideal– he loved sitting in our laps on the top deck, watching everything around him.  He even snuck in a nap or two on the bus!  I thoroughly enjoyed the audio commentary- very informative for my nerdy self!  There are two routes included in the tour, an East route and a West route.  Conveniently, there was a stop just a couple of blocks from our apartment.

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We started our Friday at La Sagrada Familia, probably Antoni Gaudi‘s most well-known work of architecture.  We purchased tickets in advance for 10am, another smart move on our part, especially with a stroller.  The outside of the basilica is absolutely incredible–and it’s not done yet!    I have seen a lot of cathedrals in Europe, but this one was really different- Gaudi’s style definitely shines through!

I was actually fairly surprised by the interior.  It was much more modern-looking than I expected.  It was still incredibly beautiful!  The way the light reflects and infuses the entire place is almost ethereal.  I love the peace and tranquility of the inside of a church, no matter where in the world you are.

From the Sagrada Familia, we hopped on the bus toward Park Guell.  Though there is a “Monumental Zone” that costs money to enter, we just wandered around the free area, meandering through the beautiful landscape.  The park is nestled on a hill, so we came upon some breathtaking views of the city.  Even at the end of November, the weather was perfect– mid-60s and sunny!  In Park Guell, we also picked up some street art- B and I try to get street or local art as souvenirs from our travels- we eventually want to create a gallery wall filled with our adventures {but for now we are using every extra dollar to continue traveling…framing and hanging shall wait :)}

We stopped at Lata Berna for a yummy lunch, then headed back to get on the bus.  After the lengthy walk around Park Guell earlier, we were happy to sit on the bus, listening to the commentary as it chauffeured us around Barcelona.  We saw and heard about many of the historic and famous sites, such as Casa Batllo {another Gaudi masterpiece–we did not visit} and Plaça Catalunya, the central square in Barcelona.

At Plaça Catalunya, we switched to the other route to see the other side of Barcelona.  This route took us uphill through Parc de Monjuïc.  This gave us fantastic views from the opposite side of the city.  I didn’t realize how varied the landscape of Barcelona was.  It contains a little bit of everything!

After a relatively  uninspiring dinner, we ended our day at the Font Mágica/Font Monjuïc.  It has a phenomenal light and fountain show each evening, choreographed to music.  All of us enjoyed it!!

Saturday was our second day of the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour, and we set out mostly to just explore the hustle and bustle of the city.  We found an amazingly deliciously scrumptious and indulgent {to say the least} sweets shop called Chok.  Holy cow, guys.  Find it.  Indulge. Love it.  I got a pastry topped with Nutella and mint chocolate shavings….I’m drooling just thinking about it.  The shop was located right along Las Ramblas, the main touristy strip in Barcelona.  There were lots of little kiosks, shops, restaurants, and bars along this boulevard, which is busy day and night.

Our next stop was La Boqueria, the most well-known market in Barcelona.  It reminded me a little of Borough Market in London {one of my favorite places!}.  I love how lively, bright, and colorful markets are!

It was a gorgeous afternoon, so we hopped on the upper deck of the bus and rode down to the beach area of the city.  Ironically (or maybe not, who knows?), we found a Mexican restaurant for lunch overlooking the water.  I really wish I knew the same of the place, as I would definitely recommend it!  Eating Mexican in Spain with a view of the ocean is a memory I won’t forget!

B and one of his friends had tickets to the FC Barcelona soccer football match Saturday afternoon, so the rest of us headed to the zoo to entertain little man for a bit.  Once again, we should’ve done our research a bit better, as our timing wasn’t great.  We got in just fine and began walking around, but shortly after we arrived, they made an announcement saying they were closing in 30 minutes.  We got to see a few animals, but I was overall not incredibly impressed.  The big cats (jaguars, etc.) were all in tiny areas and quite a few of the animals (elephants, hippo, giraffes, etc.) were nowhere to be seen at all.  There was a petting zoo that we visited, but Benjamin was not a huge fan of the goats!

The soccer football match was over as we were leaving the zoo, so we met back up with the boys at the apartment.  One of the guys decided to call it a night, but the rest of us headed toward the Barcelona Cathedral to see the Fira de Santa Llúcia Christmas Market.  The city was all lit up at night with Christmas decorations, which I loved {I am a bit of a Christmas junkie!}  The market was cute, but not overly exciting (especially compared to the grand Winter Wonderland in London!!).  We bought some Christmas ornaments and watched some street performers before heading to find a yummy Italian place for dinner.  All of us cleaned our plates, stuffing ourselves full of delicious pasta and garlic bread.

Sunday morning, 3 of the members of our group headed back to London, so the rest of us checked out of the apartment and into our hotel for the night (by the airport, since we were flying back to London early Monday morning).  We planned the day to be kind of a relaxing day since we had been so busy all weekend.  Once we got back into the city, we made our way toward the beach area again, checking out Barceloneta, a cute little area with shops and restaurants.  I absolutely loved this neighborhood.  It felt really authentic and reminded me of some of the hipster kind of areas in Atlanta and other cities I’ve been to.  We had lunch there and spent most of the early afternoon wandering the streets and beaches.  The old ladies in Spain adored Benjamin.  I can’t tell you how many googly-eyed ladies ogled him–I even had a handful of broken Spanish conversations with a few admirers who just went on and on about how cute he was.  What can I say, B and I make cute babies 😉

*Sidenote: speaking of speaking Spanish, I did pretty well for myself conversing with the locals, even though the area speaks mostly Catalan, which is a bit different than traditional Spanish.  There were definitely a few cab rides and interactions that may not have gone quite as smoothly had I not known as much as I did!  High-five, high school Spanish classes! 

Our last stop in Barcelona was the aquarium.  I think I was spoiled living in Atlanta, as the aquarium there is amazing!!  The one in Barcelona was ok; there were lots of fish, sharks, and some penguins, as well as a pretty cool interactive area for kids.  Benjamin seemed to enjoy himself, which was the ultimate goal.  🙂

We made it a relatively early evening, as we were exhausted from the excitement of the weekend and had an early flight the following morning.  It was bittersweet to leave Barcelona; I hope to visit again one day [after I make it to all of my other bucket list destinations!].

Barcelona Travel Journal